PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved.
Posted: January 4, 2008.
Okay, I have to admit it. I cheated a little. Whenever I
review DVD box sets, I make it a rule to watch every single episode in
the package. Usually I try to sit through all of the extras as
Unfortunately, as much as I have been loving this return to the show
that is my favorite situation comedy of all time (sorry, Jerry, George,
Elaine and Kramer... you come in second), I am writing this review after
just sampling around different episodes throughout the run of the
Sorry about that, Chief...
This breaking of my hard and fast rules of reviewing is in no way a
reflection on the quality of the show. As I just said, when it is
hitting on all cylinders, Get Smart is the funniest half-hour in
It's more a simple matter of time management. The Get Smart
box set, as released by Time-Life, is an embarrassment of riches.
Five full seasons. 25 DVDs. 138 Episodes. Countless
interviews, extras and guest commentaries. As
much as I hope to experience all of these, in order to do that before I
write the review I would either have to quit my job and put my personal
life on hold for several months or end up finishing this review sometime
Therefore I cheated. I watched 110 episodes.
Would you believe 75?
Okay, how about 50?
Would you believe that I sat through five and I read the box liner
Well, I beat out that last one at least.
Missed it by that much...
Actually, I probably caught 25-30 episodes. Of course, luckily I
have been watching this series on and off my whole life, so it's not
like I haven't seen probably all of these episodes at one point or
Because, as much as I love watching Get Smart, the one other
problem with trying to binge on the series is that as brilliant and funny as the
show is in small doses, if you watch too many episodes one after the
other, they all start to seem a bit the same. The same basic
situations. The same bad guys. The same femme fatales.
The same types of gadgets. The same agents hidden in small places.
The same catch phrases. Therefore it is
always best with Get Smart to sit through a block of episodes
over a few days and then put it away for a while, then pick it up again
for a blast later on down the line.
However, speaking of catch phrases, Get Smart was staggeringly
good at getting jokes In
modern television, when each show tries desperately trying to get a
punch line to catch on, it is kind of amazing to see how Get Smart
spent most of the late 60s contributing at least a half-dozen
catch phrases to the popular lexicon.
... And loving it.
According to the commentaries by series creators Mel Brooks and Buck
Henry, many of these catch phrases came directly from Don Adams' act.
At that point Adams was a just about to be over-the-hill stand-up
comedian (he was already in his 40s when he got this breakthrough
Watching Adams disappear into the role makes it amazing that he took so
long to be a superstar. Also that he never quite found another role that
suited him as well. While Adams worked fairly steadily over the
years (I'd love to get a DVD of his 70s sorta-game-show Don Adams'
Screen Test), agent Maxwell Smart of the super-secret spy operation
CONTROL was a zeitgeist -- a perfect marriage of performer and
It's not a coincidence that Adams returned to the role in the 1980 movie
The Nude Bomb, the late 80s TV movie The Return of Maxwell
Smart (a/k/a Get Smart, Again) and a mid-90s short-lived return
series (with a then-unknown Andy Dick as Max's doofus son.). Not
to mention the fact that many of Smart's best bits were shamelessly
recycled in his 80s cartoon series Inspector Gadget.
also starred arguably the most attractive -- and funniest -- straight
woman on 60s TV. Barbara Feldon was a model with little acting
history when she landed the role of Agent 99, however she was also a
perfect fit. Other brilliant recurring roles were Robert Karvelas
as harried CONTROL flunkie Larrabee, Richard Gautier as Hymie the Robot
"Hymie's my friend."
Chief: "Your friend busted into my
office, said he was going to kill me, smashed my desk to pieces, and
almost strangled me with his bare hands."
Maxwell Smart: "Well, I said he was my
friend, not yours."),
Bernie Koppell as arch-fiend Siegfeld, the head of the evil
orginaization ("This is KAOS.
We don't shush here!")
the dog as K-9 agent Fang.
Then there was one of the greatest slow-burn artists ever, Edward Platt
as the harried Chief of CONTROL. ("The cone of silence?" he wailed
plaintively and annoyedly numerous times over the seasons. "It
doesn't work. It never has. Max, please.")
Brooks and Henry let out the true secret-weapon of the series in their
commentary. Everyone realizes that it is a parody of the
then-ubiquitous James Bond films -- however, the real secret was the
assumption that the Government was a massively incompetent organization.
Therefore, no matter what brilliant things they created, it was a given
that simple human error would screw it all up. Or, as Smart
himself put it, "Well, 99,
we are what we are. I'm a secret agent,
trained to be cold, vicious, and savage. Not
enough to be a businessman."
The pilot episode -- the only one which was filmed completely in black
and white, by the way, opens with a bit of prestidigitation. We
are in the middle of an opera house. Everyone is dressed in
tuxedos, quietly watching. Suddenly, in the middle of a crowd, a
phone starts ringing. People start looking around, trying to
figure out whose phone is ringing. Finally, Smart stands up and
leaves the auditorium to answer the ring.
We've all been through it and it's annoying as hell. However, this
episode was filmed a good thirty-some years before the cell phone.
The ring was coming from Smart's shoe phone -- a miniature phone hidden
in the heel of a shoe. This before-its-time flight-of-fancy was
only one of dozens of interesting gadgets used in the series, stuff like
laser blazers, pens which shoot poison darts and the aforementioned cone
of silence, the perfect embodiment of brilliant technological advances
that never quite work.
may never get to play with the Philharmonic," Smart
reasons, "but on the other hand, is
Leonard Bernstein licensed to kill?"
with so many series, as the seasons go on the show lost its mojo a bit
and relied on some desperate sitcom gimmicks. Max and 99 get
married. They have twins. Max gets a loud-mouthed
mother-in-law. The show never needed any of these tweaks -- Max
and 99 worked better with a little sexual tension than as a couple and
no show has ever been helped by the addition of babies.
However, even in the later years, when the series was a little hobbled
it was still better than most of the series on the air. It even
threw in the odd latter-years classic bit, like in the birth episode
there was still a classic KAOS agent named Simon the Likeable (played by
long-time commercial pro Jack Gilford) who is so pleasant that everyone
fell under his spell... except, of course, for Max's mother-in-law.
However other episodes creak with anachronism. One that comes
immediately to mind was the one with Larry Storch of F-Troop as
the Groovy Guru. It was probably heavy back in the summer
after the summer of love, but now feels like it should be in a time
capsule with the "Blue Boy" episode of Dragnet.
So, yeah, not all of this
is perfect. Any series that runs for years will have some
clunkers. That said, Get Smart is more consistently funny
than most series it came up with. Most old sitcoms are nearly
impossibly slow watched with 21st Century eyes, but Max and his
compatriots still groove. It takes comic styles like slapstick
which feel faintly vaudevillian now and makes them feel fresh and new.
(And even when Get Smart was in its hey-day, we were a
decade-past-Lucy and slapstick was on its way out.) Get
Smart offers more belly-laughs per half hour than any show in TV
history. Yes, it's that good.
PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved.
Posted: January 4, 2008.